Here’s a question: Is it better for an OEM to release all of its new lineup all at once on a single day, or is it better to space them out over, say, a 3 to 4 month period?

The reason I ask is we’ve seen OEMs announce their GI/SGI irons in, say, November - maybe at the same time as drivers-fairways-hybrids, maybe not - and then a month later announce a max game-improvement offering, and then two months later announce better player offerings. No, none of these is replacing what was just announced, but it’s a way OEMs have of spreading out their announcements to, among others things, stay in the headlines.

For instance, last August Cobra unveiled the first of its 2018 lineup: the Cobra MAX metal woods and irons. Then in November, we got the new F8 Irons and metalwoods. While there’s still more to come, today Cobra is announcing an update to the – please read carefully – two-and-a-half-year old King Forged TEC irons.

Players-Distance Irons

The question of staying in the news vs. potential brand fatigue is best left to another day, so let’s focus on Cobra’s update to its entry in a growing irons segment: better players looking for more – or lost – distance.

Leave it to the HotList to put a name on it, but there is no denying the growth of what Golf Digest is calling the Players-Distance iron category. Callaway's Rogue Pro, PING’s i200, TaylorMade’s P790, Titleist’s new AP3 and Wilson’s C300 Forged are all irons that promise the look a better player wants, but with plenty of technology to give distance without sacrificing feel or precision.

While the cynic may say it’s merely an excuse for Golf Digest to give out more Gold Medals, it is a useful way to look at how different iron sets may fit into what your game needs. The Forged TEC has been one of Cobra’s flagship irons since its late-2015 release (again, that’s a two-and-a-half-year life cycle), and this year’s updates are obviously cosmetic, subtly performance-based, and the clearly brand-driven.

The most obvious cosmetic change to the Forged TEC (TEC stands for Technology Enhanced Cavity – more on that later) is the new black finish, but please don’t call it a coating.

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Black is the New Orange

“Everybody has liked black finishes over the years,” says Tom Olsavsky, Cobra’s VP of R&D. “But there’s never been one that’s durable. It’s always a challenge.”

For the Forged TEC Black, Cobra is using Diamond Black Metal, or DBM, the same process it uses in the King Cobra CB/MB irons.

DBM isn’t a coating or plating. It’s a process where black material is actually deeply embedded into the steel itself. The embedding process can only be done with carbon steel, and it functionally changes the surface hardness.

“If you look at Ricky’s irons, he probably goes through a set or two every year. Even at the end of the year they look as though they’ve hardly been played because the finish is so durable ands so good at maintain the groove edges and surface roughness. That’s what you want for consistent iron play.” – Tom Olsavsky, Cobra Golf

The color change has led to one of the subtle changes in Forged TEC Black. The original Forged TEC was a two-piece head: a 1025 carbon steel forged head and a J15 high strength steel face insert. The problem, however, is J15 isn’t compatible with DBM. So while the head is still 1025, the new face insert is 4140 forged carbon steel – it’s still thin and strong for faster ball speeds, and it can accept the black DBM.

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And you know how they say black is slimming? Well, same thing with irons. Cobra says the Forged TEC Black is aimed at golfers ranging from scratch all the way up to a 15 handicap. That’s a fairly wide swath.

“It’s got that game improvement size and shape,” says Olsavsky. “The nice thing about black is it helps them look just a smidge smaller. Some players thought the last version in silver looked a little thick.”

And silver is not slimming.

Sound, Feel and Urethane

The other subtle change is a new carbon-fiber medallion structure in the Technology Enhanced Cavity, similar to what's used in Cobra’s new F8 Irons.

“One thing we heard about the original Forged TECs is that a few players thought they were a bit clicky,” admits Olsavsky. “High speed, thin-faced forgings have the same problems high speed, thin-faced castings have. When you have a thinner structure on the face and a more open structure to the iron, you get more vibration, which means more sound.

Which translates to feel, or lack thereof.

To control vibration, Cobra is combining carbon fiber with TPU, or thermoplastic urethane, in the cavity. It's a variation of what virtually everyone else is doing to solve the problem: Callaway uses Urethane Microspheres, PING uses Santoprene,  while TaylorMade and PXG continue to duke it out over SpeedFoam and thermoplastic elastomers.

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“You’re trying to put a structure in there that dampens the sound and feel without slowing the ball down,” says Olsavsky. “It needs to be soft enough, so you don’t affect the real structure, but firm enough to dampen it so you don’t get vibration. We combine it with carbon fiber pieces. The carbon fiber adds strength, and the TPU adds the softness.”

The other subtle change is the inspired choice of True Temper’s AMT shafts as stock. AMT stands for Ascending Mass Technology, and the quick story is the long iron shafts start out relatively light and get progressively heavier as you get to the short irons. The advantages are easier to swing and easier to launch long irons and heavier short irons that provide more control as you get closer to the green.

“I think using the black version of the AMT’s from True Temper really creates a sexy package,” says Olsavsky. “We know that clubs are usually bought with emotion, and a lot of that emotion comes from the visual appearance of the club.”

Forged TEC ONE Length

From a branding standpoint, it only makes sense for Cobra to include the Forged TEC Blacks as part of its ONE Length offering.

Cobra had tested the Forged TEC irons in single length last year and considered offering them as part of its original ONE Length launch, along with the F7’s and Bryson DeChambeau’s Forged Tour irons.

“We really weren’t ready to launch all three sets last year, so we went with Bryson’s irons and the F7,” says Olsavsky. “Retailers were pleased with the performance and sell-through, so adding these to the players-distance category with a premium forging is going to continue the momentum. Our irons business grew last year, and 60% of our volume was with the ONE Length F7.”

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The Forged TEC ONE Length irons have a few differences compared to the variable length version. First, the ONE Length 3- to 7-iron heads feature a single tungsten weight running from heel to toe, while the same lofted variable length heads use a 4-gram heel weight and a 12-gram toe weight.

“We’re trying to keep the CG in the same place heel to toe so you have good consistency, but we’re trying to make it lower in the long irons and a little bit higher in the short irons. One thing we learned with ONE Length is there’s still a bit of a trajectory concern at the extremes. We definitely have a lower CG in the ONE Length long irons than we do with the variable length. That helps make up for a little bit of what you lose with the shorter club length.” - Tom Olsavsky, Cobra Golf

To help trajectory and distance control, the lower the iron loft, the lower the CG with ONE Length, and the bigger the difference versus its variable length counterpart. As the lofts get higher, the difference between the two CG depths gets smaller until you hit the 7-iron, where the CG depths are the same. As the lofts get higher, the CG depth with ONE Length gets higher, and the difference in CG depth versus variable gets wider

You’ll also notice the lie angles between the ONE Length and variable sets are different. We discussed this in detail in our story on the F8 irons, but the short version is ONE Length long irons are more upright, while the short irons and wedges are flatter. Cobra has found that golfers swing long irons faster, even if they’re using the same 7-iron length shaft throughout the set, and that the shafts will bend differently. The dynamic forces during the swing will balance out and create a more consistent lie angle at impact throughout the set.

Cobra Connect Across the Board

As with the F8 iron set, Cobra is making its Arccos-powered Cobra Connect system standard with the Forged TEC Black. You’ll get an Arccos sensor embedded in each grip, and you’ll get screw-in Arccos sensors for the rest of the clubs in your bag, all at no upcharge.

Not for nothing, Arccos 360 by itself sells for $249.99.

Cobra is also widening its Arccos-capable grip options to include the Lamkin R.E.L., Crossline ACE, UTX, and Wrap Tech, as well as the Golf Pride MCC, MCC +4, Tour Velvet and Tour Velvet Ribbed, all in various sizes.

Cobra Forged TEC Black - 2

“That covers about 90% of the grips people buy aftermarket,” says Olsavsky. “Some of the others, like Winn and a few others, aren’t quite there yet, but it’s a matter of them making tooling. Our volumes for those others in custom grips, outside of Lamkin and Golf Pride, are pretty small.”

Cobra doesn’t plan on making replacement grips widely available at retail at this time, so, for now, you’ll have to order replacement grips from the Cobra website. One thing you can do, however, is if you order a set of Forged TECs (or any other Arccos-equipped iron set), instead of getting the extra screw-in Arccos sensors, you can custom order – at an upcharge – extra grips with the sensors already embedded that you can install on the rest of your clubs if you want.

Price and Availability

Both the variable length and ONE Length Forged Tec Black irons come standard with black True Temper AMT shafts and Lamkin ACE Crossline COBRA CONNECT grips. The variable length irons will feature black grips, while the ONE Length irons have Blue/Red grips. The standard seven club set makeup is a 5-iron through Gap wedge embedded with Cobra Connect sensors as well as seven additional screw-in sensors for the rest of your set.

Both Forged TEC Black sets will be available for both lefties and righties and will retail for $1,099.00 in steel, $1,199.00 in graphite (UST Recoil ES SmacWrap shafts - custom orders only).

Pricewise the Forged TEC blacks are in the middle of the pack compared to others in the category, although having Cobra Connect included does mitigate that somewhat. For instance, the Rogue Pro retails for $1,000 for an eight club set, the PING i200 is $875 for a seven club set and the Wilson C300 Forged is $900 for an eight-club set. On the other side, the TaylorMade P790 and the Titleist AP3 are both $1,300 for a set of eight. While there are plenty of options within the price range, Cobra is clearly banking on performance, the ONE Length option and Cobra Connect included will sway some customers in the Players-Distance category its way.

Both irons sets will be in stores April 6th.